Chin in hand, a man contemplates a chessboard
Nikita Vitiugov competing in the Tata Steel tournament in the Netherlands in 2020 © Getty Images

Nikita Vitiugov, the current world No 25 and the 2021 Russian champion, has transferred to England. Vitiugov, 36, is the latest among several younger grandmasters opposed to the war against Ukraine who have taken advantage of the global body Fide’s policy of listing Russians as FID and enabling transfers with reduced formalities and minimal cost.

Serbia, Spain and Slovenia have already gained strong Russians, but Vitiugov is the highest rated GM yet to make a move. He used to reside in St Petersburg, then switched to Spain with his wife, and his young son was born there. Now he has rented a flat in East Anglia and is making arrangements for his family to join him.

Vitiugov’s transfer was helped by the ECF international director Malcolm Pein, and can be viewed as the first fruit of the new government grant of £500,000 over two years for elite chess, announced last month.

It is likely that the GM, who was twice chief aide to the eight-times Russian champion Peter Svidler in the world title Candidates and is a highly experienced coach, will become an instructor at training camps planned for the England open and women’s teams plus the best junior talents.

With his Fide international rating of 2719, Vitiugov ranks ahead of David Howell (2676), Michael Adams (2662) and the currently inactive Matthew Sadler (2694). He will be eligible for the England team at the next biennial Olympiad at Budapest in 2024, and this should mean an improved performance, although the three powerhouses of international chess, India, the US and China, will still be favourites to sweep the medals.

Vitiugov is England’s strongest chess immigrant for more than a century, higher ranked than those who fled Nazi persecution in central Europe in the late 1930s or the small number who came around 1990 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 1930s cohort, which included Jacques Mieses, Ernst Klein and Paul List, were my opponents in several games in my distant 1950s chess youth, and I learnt much from competing against them.

Arguably Mir Sultan Khan, the Punjabi from modern Pakistan who ranked in the world top 10 in the early 1930s and won an epic marathon against José Raúl Capablanca at Hastings, was England’s strongest ever chess immigrant, but Vitiugov is a clear second. He had his own moment of glory against China’s currently reigning world champion with a brilliant attacking game of only 24 moves: see

Puzzle number 2536

White mates in three moves (by Dietrich Wasmann). The US legend Paul Morphy took more than an hour to find the solution. Nearly a century later, it was shown to Alexander Alekhine a few months before his death. Alekhine gave a quick look, rattled off White’s first move and the mating variations, then added: “Morphy must have been asleep that day.” How do you compare?

Click here for solution

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